October 17, 2010

The distinction between entertainment and politics is not always clear these days. Self-proclaimed satirists and entertainers on both sides of the political spectrum get the kinds of billings most pundits and politicians can only dream of.

With the Restoring Honor Rally and the subsequent Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear), the line has become blurred beyond all recognition.

(Who pays attention to the minor detail that Beck always describes himself, not as an expert or a pundit but as an entertainer: when Fox chooses to set him on a stage among others who do call themselves pundits? Yet at the same time, who can still honestly name Stephen Colbert "only" a comedian when his 2006 White House Press Correspondents Dinner address marked the turning point of the (George W.) Bush administration; or Jon Stewart "only" a comedian when major politicians and international royalty regularly choose to be guests on his show?)

In a climate of what can only be called discontent, the first of these two rallies has drawn more people (somewhere between 65-300 thousand) than any other political event in recent history, excepting only Barack Obama's inauguration (in the neighbourhood of two million). The second is likely to have at least similar numbers, if not higher.

Yet the first, at least, was taken entirely seriously by its attendees. (Not entirely certain just what it is that Glenn Beck takes seriously: although from the intense marketing, I suspect his bank account is not the lowest of his priorities.)

The second rally is more problematic.

Had it drawn only a minimal crowd, all would have seen this as a sign. But would it have been a sign that hardly anyone still supported Obama, a sign that those who did not support the Tea Party movement could not be bothered to come out with a real protest, or a sign that most who might otherwise have participated in such a rally chose not to participate in a pseudo-event led by a pair of comedians?

Yet it seems attendance will not be the problem. Almost certainly the Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear) will draw people, probably dozens of thousands or maybe even hundreds of thousands of people.

But why are they coming?

Is this a protest rally? If so, exactly what is being protested? and to what, exactly, would support ever be given? (Something concrete, please. Ideals don't pay the national bills.)

Is Jon Stewart knowingly building a generation of intelligent, educated, completely disengaged cynics? In a world which is so caught up in procedure it sometimes seems to have neither head nor tail, it may be the cool thing to be the rebel without a cause: yet all the Johnny Deans of the world never changed a single significant thing. Children and adolescents kick and scream and shout "No, no, no!" Adults try to change things for the better.

It can be safely assumed that all who are coming are fans either of Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart: is it a support rally, possibly even for a (wanted or unwanted) political run? It has not escaped notice that Oprah's programming will soon be coming to an end: is she building a new platform for the first overtly bought presidency? (Oprah vs Sarah Palin 2016: just imagine it.)

Or are those who will be attending the rally looking for a bit of laughter and an overall good time with like-minded others?

In short: is this a fun rally or a serious one?

What is the point of a politicised statement which cannot answer the most basic of these questions, other than to divert energy which might otherwise have been used actually to tackle the real problems?

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